No one can say that Jim McIngvale doesn't know how to attract a crowd.
Better known as "Mattress Mac," the Gallery Furniture owner has added to the appeal of his new store on the Grand Parkway with a 20,000-square foot atrium and a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. When news came that the store's companion restaurant, Brick & Mortar Kitchen, features a $200, 46-ounce tomahawk ribeye and a $4,250 bottle of ultra-rare Screaming Eagle cabernet sauvignon, it made the restaurant seem like just another gimmick to lure customers in for mattresses and recliners.
So far, the fried quail entree has proven to be the most popular menu item, but diners are ordering the roasted beets and the beef tartare with salsa verde, too.
But dismissing Brick & Mortar so quickly would be a mistake — the restaurant has some serious culinary credibility. That starts with owners Laura McIngvale Brown and her husband Phil who have brought the expertise they've gained running Austin's Vince Young Steakhouse for five years to the restaurant.
While the Browns are dividing their time between Richmond and Austin, they've tapped executive chef Eric Johnson and his wife Lexey, a trained sommelier with experience at Austin's Vino Vino, to oversee the concept.
Phil Brown tells CultureMap that his father-in-law gave the couple a simple set of criteria for Brick & Mortar. "He kind of gave us free reign. He said he wanted a nice restaurant, a quality restaurant. He didn’t just want a run of the mill regular food. Not fine dining but a place where someone can come for a regular dinner or to celebrate a special occasion."
Restaurant and store operate independently, but they do have a symbiotic relationship. Shoppers can find sweets from the restaurant's pastry chef Efrain Roman at a special stand, and anyone who spends $2,000 on furniture gets a $100 food credit at the restaurant.
Although Brick and Mortar may not be as upscale as the Brown's steakhouse in Austin, it operates with many of the same standards in terms of using seasonal ingredients and local sourcing. "The menu is smaller, but we’re going to change (the menu) almost monthly once we get rolling. If it can be bought in the quality and quantity we need from Texas, we’re buying it from Texas," Brown says.
Brown defines the menu as "Texas-Southern refined."
Brown defines the menu as "Texas-Southern refined." At dinner, familiar dishes like fried calamari and Caesar salad stand alongside more contemporary dishes like a plate of burrata and bottarga with a mixed herb salad and an artfully plated charred carrot salad with goat cheese that wouldn't look out of a place at any restaurant inside the Loop.
So far, the fried quail entree has proven to be the most popular menu item, but diners are ordering the roasted beets and the beef tartare with salsa verde, too. They're also ordering the shared entrees; in addition to the tomahawk steak, Brick & Mortar serves duck confit and the massive porchetta pictured above.
"They’ll feed up to six people comfortably," Brown says. "They come out in a big cast iron skillet with all the sides."
Speaking of splurges, no one has ordered the Screaming Eagle or any of the other seven "Incredibles" that Brown has stocked in his wine cellar, but sommelier Lexey Johnson affirms she's ready when the day finally comes. In the meantime, the wines, which were sourced from a wine broker who also supplies the steakhouse, drive a little conversation.
The rest of Johnson's 120-bottle wine list features small producers that offer superior values and flavors to the big names diners may be used to, and she's ready to explain why the pinot grigio on her list is superior to the more familiar Santa Margherita. Beverage options also include a full cocktail menu and 10 taps of Texas craft beer.
Three weeks in, Brown says he's pleased with the reaction from area diners, who have told him they're excited about having an inner Loop-style restaurant in Richmond.
"We’re trying to do things a little differently than people are used to, and they seem to appreciate it," Brown says. "We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but the people have been great."
Brick & Mortar Kitchen is open daily from 11 am to 10 pm serving lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends.